Feeling depressed after childbirth

Many women and those who have experienced pregnancy or birth, feel a bit down, tearful or anxious in the first week after giving birth.

This is often called the "baby blues" and is so common that it's considered normal.
The "baby blues" do not last for more than 2 weeks after giving birth.

If your symptoms last longer or start later, you could have postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression can start any time in the first year after giving birth.

Signs that you or someone you know might be depressed include:

  • a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
  • lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
  • lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
  • trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
  • difficulty bonding with your baby
  • withdrawing from contact with other people
  • problems concentrating and making decisions
  • frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby

Many people do not realise they have postnatal depression, because it can develop gradually.

During the first week after childbirth, many women and those who have experienced pregnancy or birth, get what’s often called the “baby blues”. You can feel down or depressed at a time when you expect you should feel happy at having your baby to look after. “Baby blues” are probably due to the sudden hormonal and chemical changes that take place in your body after childbirth.

Symptoms can include:

  • Feeling emotional and irrational
  • Bursting into tears for no apparent reason
  • Feeling irritable or touchy
  • Feeling depressed or anxious

 All these symptoms are normal and usually only last for a few days.

Depression after a baby is born can be extremely distressing. Postnatal depression is thought to affect around 1 in 10 women (and up to 4 in 10 teenage mothers).

Many suffer in silence. Their friends, relatives and health professionals don’t know how they’re feeling.

Postnatal depression usually occurs two to eight weeks after the birth, though sometimes it can happen up to a year after the baby is born.

Symptoms such as tiredness, irritability or poor appetite are normal if you’ve just had a baby. But these are usually mild and don’t stop you leading a normal life.

When you have postnatal depression, you may feel increasingly depressed and despondent. Looking after yourself or your baby may become too much.

Emotional signs of postnatal depression may include: 

  • Loss of interest in the baby
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Not being able to stop crying
  • Feelings of not being able to cope 
  • Not being able to enjoy anything
  • Memory loss or being unable to concentrate
  • Excessive anxiety about the baby

Other signs of postnatal depression may also include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Sleeplessness
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Aches and pains
  • Feeling generally unwell
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite

Getting help for postnatal depression

If you think you have postnatal depression, don’t struggle alone. It’s not a sign that you’re a bad mother or are unable to cope. Postnatal depression is an illness and you need to get help, just as you would if you had the flu or a broken leg.

Talk to someone you trust, such as your partner or a friend. Or ask your health visitor to call in and visit you. Many health visitors have been trained to recognise postnatal depression and have techniques that can help. If they can’t help, they’ll know someone in your area who can.

It’s also important to see your GP. If you don’t feel up to making an appointment, ask someone to do it for you. 

Milder cases of postnatal depression can be treated with counselling. This can be given by the health visitor or a therapist. There is lots of support available within Hillingdon if you need it. The best way to see an improvement in your mental health is to ask for help.

Hillingdon Perinatal Mental Health Service offers assessment and treatment to women, pregnant people and those who have experienced pregnancy or birth experiencing mental health difficulties during pregnancy and within the first year after delivery.

Hillingdon Talking Therapies service is available for all over 18 who are registered with a Hillingdon GP. You can refer yourself or ask your health visitor for a referral.

More severe cases often require antidepressants and you may need to see a specialist.

It’s important to let your GP know if you’re breastfeeding. If you need to take antidepressants, they’ll prescribe a type of medication that’s suitable while you’re breastfeeding.

You may also find it helpful to contact the Association for Post-Natal Illness or the National Childbirth Trust.

Your local children’s centre has a specialist group called nurturing beginnings that your health visitor can refer you too. They also offer regular postnatal groups. These groups provide contact with other new parents so you can support each other. They offer social activities and help with parenting skills.

Avoiding Alcohol

Alcohol may appear to help you relax and unwind. In fact, it’s a depressant that affects your mood, judgement, self-control and co-ordination. It has even more of an effect if you’re tired and run-down. Be careful about when and how much you drink, and don’t drink alcohol if you’re taking anti-depressants or tranquillisers.

Postpartum psychosis is a serious mental health illness that can affect someone soon after having a baby. It affects around 1 in 500 mothers after giving birth.

Many people who have given birth will experience mild mood changes after having a baby, known as the "baby blues". This is normal and usually only lasts for a few days.

But postpartum psychosis is very different from the "baby blues". It's a serious mental illness and should be treated as a medical emergency. It's sometimes called puerperal psychosis or postnatal psychosis.

Be aware that if you have postpartum psychosis, you may not realise you're ill. Your partner, family or friends may spot the signs and have to take action.

Postpartum psychosis is a serious mental illness that should be treated as a medical emergency. It can get worse rapidly and the illness can risk the safety of the mother and baby.

See a GP immediately if you think you, or someone you know, may have developed symptoms of postpartum psychosis. You should request an urgent assessment on the same day.

You can call 111 if you cannot speak to a GP or do not know what to do next. Your midwife or health visitor may also be able to help you access care.

Specialist mother and baby units can provide expert treatment without separating you from your baby. Most women make a complete recovery, although this may take a few weeks or months.

Support for postpartum psychosis

Postpartum psychosis can have a big impact on your life, but support is available.

It might help to speak to others who've had the same condition, or connect with a charity.

Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) have produced a series of guides with the help of women who have experienced postpartum psychosis.

Most people make a complete recovery, although this may take a few weeks or months.

Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often the result of a traumatic birth, such as a long or painful labour, or an emergency or problematic delivery. It can also develop after other types of trauma, such as:

  • A fear of dying or your baby dying
  • Life-threatening situations

The symptoms of postnatal PTSD can occur alone or in addition to the symptoms of postnatal depression. 

The symptoms can develop straight after the birth or months afterwards.

It’s extremely important to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Your midwife, GP or health visitor will be able help you. If you’re worried about talking to a health professional, consider asking a close friend or family member to come with you for support.

There are effective treatments available, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medications. Read more about treatments for PTSD.